June 02, 1998|By TERI JOHNSON

by Richard T. Meagher / staff photographer

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Steamed CrabsCrabs

There's been plenty of crabbing about El Niño, but the mild winter it caused is good news for seafood lovers.

Maryland crabs were earlier this year, says Noreen Eberly, seafood marketing specialist for Maryland Department of Agriculture Seafood Marketing Program.

Although crab season officially begins April 1, crabs usually aren't active in most parts of the Chesapeake Bay until later in the spring.

Because of the warmer winter, the crabs didn't burrow into the sand and have been more mobile, Eberly says.

The early activity and warm weather also caused the early arrival of soft-shell crabs, which are made when crabs shed their shells in order to grow. Each time a crab loses its shell, it grows about one third bigger.


"If it keeps going at this rate, it should be a record year," Eberly says.

Rennie Gay, a crabber and owner of Gay's Seafood in Easton, Md., says the season got off to a good start.

"For two weeks in early April, we did really well. Now we're waiting for it to pick back up," Gay says.

He says he doesn't think there will be a bumper crop of hard crabs this year.

The season continues through Dec. 1, and while fall is the best time for harvesting crabs, summer is the most popular season for eating them.

As the weather gets hotter, the demand for crabs increases, says Jim Beaver, seafood supervisor for six County Market supermarkets in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

He says crabs are popular with area customers.

Many consumers have misconceptions about crab size, says Walter Monninger, owner of Gateway Crab and Seafood House and Subway Seafood Restaurant and Lounge in Hagerstown.

A crab is measured from point to point on its shell, and legally it must be at least five inches.

Many people think a No. 1 crab is six inches or more, but it can be any crab that is five inches or more, Monninger says. It depends on the time of year, as crabs are smaller earlier in the season, and if the crab is heavy.

According to Maryland Department of Agriculture, crabmeat has 93 calories and 1.1 grams of fat per three-ounce serving and is a good source of protein, calcium and iron.

There is no difference in taste between a male and a female crab, Monninger says.

Male crabs are preferred for steaming because they have larger claws.

Dead crabs never should be cooked, Beaver says.

After crabs have been steamed, store leftovers in the refrigerator. Cooked crabs can be kept at least five days, Beaver says.

Crabmeat that has been picked from the shell can be frozen for later use, he says.

Last year about 40 million pounds of hard crabs and more than 1.5 million pounds of soft crabs were harvested from Maryland waters, Eberly says.

During peak season, Monninger or driver George Poffenberger, known as "the crab man," makes a 300-mile round trip to the Eastern Shore every day to get enough crabs to supply customers.

Monninger says it's worth the drive.

"I've eaten crabs just about everywhere, and there's nothing like a Maryland blue crab," he says.


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